This paper is a report of a study on early school experience as part of a Teacher Education programme in Turkey. The programme requires second-year students to act as students only, observing their mentors in classrooms rather than practising teaching so that they can gain a wider view of the teaching profession. The study analyses the experiences of these students, therefore, particularly focusing on the extent to which this scheme is conducive to making students learn from their experience. The findings from the qualitative data suggest that careful attention must be paid to major factors shaping this process, such as the school atmosphere as a whole, the nature of tasks for observation, the quality of interaction between student-mentor, and, more importantly, the opportunities for students to develop an inquiry-based approach to teaching. (C) 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.